For some bizarre reason I can’t understand AT ALL now that I’ve actually seen it, I had this movie out from Netflix for a record FIVE WEEKS before I finally sat down to watch it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a disk longer than five DAYS before, to be honest, but even though I suspected this movie might be a lot of fun, for some hindsightedly-ridiculous reason, I had trouble getting myself to sit down and watch it.
In retrospect, I can now announce the following: I am an idiot. Because I LOVED THIS CRAZY MOVIE! Oh my god!! I loved it sooooo much! I totally want to marry it! I want to have its little Godzilla-Meets-Jurassic-Park-Meets-Blair-Witch-Project babies! When the end credits rolled, and the first thing those credits stated was, “Directed by Matt Reeves,” the first thing *I* stated was, “MATT REEVES RULZ!!”
And I meant it too.
Why I’m suddenly talking like I’m 13 years old, I have no idea. Except that yes, yes I do know. It’s because I’m giddy with the joy that comes from watching a really entertaining and effective scary movie, and giddiness always makes me feel young. Which is not to say I found this movie SCARY, mind you, because I absolutely did not. In order to scare me for real, you have to show me something I believe might actually happen (movies about dangerously inept government officials usually do the trick, for example) — but giant, building-stomping critters in New York City honestly do not worry me all that much. For reasons I hope are obvious.
That said, what was effective for me (and I realize not all critics felt this way, but those critics are jaded and lame — you know, in my humble opinion) was the characters themselves. I found myself sinking into this film and truly caring about the characters involved and what was happening to them. They seemed authentic to me and I wanted to know how things were going to turn out for them. For once, I found myself actually rooting for the humans instead of the monster — dudes, you have no idea how rare that is for me!
The movie opens with some home-movie footage of two characters — Rob and Beth — happily post-coital and making plans for a fantastic day spent together at Coney Island. Suddenly, that footage is interrupted by a new recording: a going-away party for Rob hosted by a bunch of his friends. Turns out Rob is heading to Japan soon for a new job and Beth? Well, Beth wasn’t actually his girlfriend, as in love as they may have seemed in that opening shot. She was just his BEST friend, and a month ago they slept together and things got awkward fast. Now they aren’t speaking to each other, she’s brought some other guy to the party, and Rob’s brother has just started filming this going-away party footage right over the tape of that glorious day at Coney Island.
The camera gets passed to a guy named Hud, who turns out to be this movie’s comic relief, god bless ‘im. Hud begins to film everybody’s comments and well-wishes for Rob but quickly gets bored and decides to try to capture Rob and Beth fighting in the hallway instead. Juicy! Just as he’s being shooed away, though, the entire party is disrupted by a loud WHOMP and the shaking of the entire building.
And we’re off!
To tell you anything more about what happens in this movie would be to ruin the fun of discovering it for yourself, so I won’t say much more about the plot. But one of the things I loved about this film immediately was the fact J. J. Abrams (a genius!) clearly knows and respects Meg’s First Rule of Effective Monster Movie Making. And that rule is: DO NOT SHOW ME THE MONSTER* (*unless the monster is really, really cool, which it probably isn’t, so err on the side of caution, wouldja?).
Would that more monster movie makers knew this rule, because nothing ruins a scary movie mood faster than the early showing of a truly lame monster, and 99% of movie monsters are, in fact, TRULY LAME.
In this one, though, when we can see anything of the creature, it’s usually only a fast-moving blur in the background, or a strange-looking and enormous leg plonking down off to the side. We finally do get a close-up shot of the monster’s head at the end of the film — which was unfortunate because ”truly lame” turned out to be fairly accurate (I subtract 50 points from any movie in which the monster is not from the surface of the planet Earth and yet is a biped with four limbs and a small head, by the way). But it takes nearly the ENTIRE MOVIE for us to even begin to have a clue of what humankind is up against. And that, in my opinion, is TRULY COOL.
I also confess I was initially a bit worried I’d find the hand-held video camera stuff too hokey. It’s been done to death since Blair Witch Project(another fantastic movie that really, REALLY got behind Meg’s First Rule of Effective Monster Movie Making, by the way), and it’s done badly most of the time, in my experience. But this movie just really did it RIGHT. It was exactly the kind of footage I’d expect to see from an inexperienced dude named Hud with a video camera, flailing around in a bit of a fluctuating state of shock.
I can’t help but keep coming back to the word “authentic” every time I think about this movie, actually, and that’s in no small part thanks to a series of little moments here and there that were simply spot-on. One came early on in the film, after the initial whomping drove everybody out into the street. Nobody has any idea what’s going on when suddenly the head of the Statue of Liberty comes flying through the air and lands with a thud right in front of them. But instead of fleeing in terror, half the people on the street immediately pull out their cell phones and start snapping photos. I loved that! So true!
And in terms of the camerawork, there were a lot of great little touches there that anybody who has ever used a hand-held video camera has experienced for themselves — like the auto-focus struggling to find something to focus ON, or issues with lighting, etc. It really looked like a home movie.
At the risk of sounding like a total dork, I just have to tell you I was literally THRILLED by this film. It was intelligently made and thoroughly engaging — refreshing! Only time will tell if I find it as fun the second (or third, or fourth) time I see it. I’ve seen Blair Witchat least 50 times now, for example, and I still love to watch it — I can only hope this movie will hold up as well. But you never know. Maybe it was effective the first time because I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe it was effective because I was distracted by the film-making style and didn’t pay enough attention to the dialogue or the characters or the action itself. Maybe I’m just dumb. But on first viewing, I can definitely say this was one of the most entertaining horror/monster movies I’ve seen so far this year.
Highly recommended! And I’d be curious to hear what you guys thought of it, so hit the comments, yo!
Cast: Mike Vogel, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Odet Jasmin